‘Ordinary’ mug with a fascinating story to tell

The 1830s mug which recalls the campaign to reform Parliament.

The 1830s mug which recalls the campaign to reform Parliament. - Credit: Archant

Collectables : Mike Hicks on a reminder of 'Rotten Boroughs'

Recently I came across a one-pint mug which was damaged, and at first glance, it looked worth tuppence. On closer inspection, my curiosity got the better of me and I thought: 'I have got to know more about this.'

The decoration on the outside of the mug was a scene with a group of people including a judge holding up a banner and various other proclamations. It was decorated with a floral design on the inside. The headline read 'We are for our King and the people', and although there is no date on this, it was quite evident they were referring to William IV, who reigned for a mere seven years, from 1830 to 1837.

The other curious thing was that this was that this particular colour of decoration, known as 'puce', was extremely popular at this time, and much pottery and porcelain was decorated in this colourway. By the time you had got to Victoria in 1837, it was still in use but had disappeared in subsequent years.

However, back to the plot; what was the mug commemorating? It has to be said that a piece of pottery of this quality, was not for the poor and needy - you had to be of some wealth and stature to consider buying one, and one assumes in doing so, you were furthering the cause that they were proclaiming.

It appears that at this time there was a very great mis-use of parliament (nothing changes!), where there seems to have been a total maladjustment in the voting ability of a great number of the country's population.

There were 56 'rotten boroughs', consisting of small numbers of the population that had a highly-disproportionate number of MPs. At Dunwich there were only 32 voters by 1832, but they still returned two MPs. Aldeburgh and Castle Rising also had very few voters but also still returned members. But Birmingham and Manchester had no MPs at all. Where was the fairness in that?

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The Great Reform Bill of 1832 attempted to sweep away these undemocratic anomalies.

There was much toing and froing between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and it took almost to the end of the century before the Bill in its entirety was passed. Of the very many reform acts that took place during the 19th century, an important one for Norfolk was the Third Reform Act of 1884 which allowed the vote to agricultural workers. For this, we have to thank its instigator Benjamin Disraeli, who

extended the franchise to working men in the towns and cities and increased the number of voters to almost one million. Votes for women, of course, were still a long way off.

All of which is a little reminder that we should all take a closer look at such apparently 'ordinary' items. They often have fascinating stories to tell, if we're prepared to listen.

Mike Hicks runs Stalham Antique Gallery at 29 High Street, Stalham (NR12 9AH). You can contact Mike on 01692 580636 or info@mikehicksantiques.co.uk.

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